Stanford students now have a broader range of options to self-identify their pronouns in the campus data system Axess. The pronoun information that students provide will appear on class rosters and in Canvas, the university’s learning management system, beginning this fall. Faculty and staff will be able to update their pronouns in Axess in the future.

This is the first phase of the Gender Data Enablement Project, a larger effort to improve how Stanford collects and manages gender and pronoun information.

“The Gender Data Enablement Project is about promoting a sense of belonging and inclusion at Stanford – one of the important goals of the IDEAL initiative,” said Patrick Dunkley, vice provost for institutional equity, access, and community and executive director of IDEAL.

“We believe that in order to participate fully in the many educational and career opportunities at Stanford, community members need to feel safe and respected, and be recognized as their true selves,” he said.

One of the aims of this project is for campus IT systems to be more inclusive of transgender and nonbinary community members. Dunkley noted that in the DEI survey conducted in May 2021, many members of the community, including 7% of undergraduates, identify as other than singly “man” or “woman.”

“By adding more inclusive options in our data systems, we hope to have more accurate reporting and representation of the Stanford community. With a fuller picture of our community, we can continue to make improvements to the campus climate, which include enhancing the student learning experience and delivering appropriate service experiences for all community members,” said Dunkley.

Based on input from students across a variety of gender identities, there are options to select multiple pronouns; nonbinary pronouns; or to select options such as “please ask me” or “use my name.” More information on how students can enter their pronouns, which is optional, is provided here.

Pronouns in the classroom

In recent years, many faculty and teaching staff members have sought guidance on inclusive teaching practices, including the use of pronouns in the classroom and other settings and in instances such as writing letters of recommendation. Many have accessed the resources offered by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). These resources include programs, workshops, and publications geared toward meeting the needs of Stanford’s diverse student population.

As part of this phase of the Gender Data Enablement Project, new resources have been developed for faculty with best practices and suggestions for how to use pronouns as part of creating inclusive learning environments.

“We recognize that teaching contexts vary widely at Stanford. For example, learning and using pronouns may be different in large versus small classes,” said Sarah Church, vice provost for undergraduate education. “CTL’s new resources address this with many helpful suggestions gleaned from faculty and student feedback.”

Genesis of the project

The Gender Data Enablement project originated from information infrastructure needs identified by Gender Inclusive Stanford (GIS) to recognize transgender and nonbinary community members.

Spearheaded by a small group of staff within Queer Student Resources and Weiland Health Initiative, GIS began in 2017 as a grassroots effort dedicated to improving the administrative systems and lived experience of transgender and nonbinary students and members of the Stanford community. Building on the early work of GIS, the Gender Data @ Stanford working group was formed in 2019 to specifically address the very limited options for pronouns and gender identity in core Stanford systems such as the student information system and human resources system.

With funds from the IDEAL initiative, the Gender Data Enablement project was launched to coordinate efforts across campus and conduct community and peer research. This past year, students, faculty, and staff participated in a series of focus groups and surveys to help determine the needs of the community and the direction of the project.

“The structure of the student information system facilitated a more rapid implementation of the project than the very different structure of the human resources system, and we are working diligently to expand the project to that system as well,” said Dunkley.

Inge Hansen, director of Well-Being at Stanford and the Weiland Health Initiative and chair of the Gender Data @ Stanford Working Group said, “We are deeply grateful to the students, faculty, and staff members who have been working for years to advance gender inclusivity at Stanford, addressing issues in areas including data reporting and governance, teaching and learning, the built environment, and health and well-being. It is essential that we continually strive to create a campus culture and environment where people of all genders can flourish.”

“The Gender Data Enablement project is just one area of focus for promoting belonging and inclusion at Stanford. With dozens of data systems across the university, it has been challenging to ensure that we move forward with gender data in the most inclusive way possible while also protecting privacy,” she said.

Hansen stressed that this is “just a first step” in the project and future plans call for more integration with other campus data systems such as StanfordWho.

Ensuring privacy

A key element of the Gender Enablement Project is to ensure that all personal information entered by students, staff, and faculty are properly protected. Throughout the course of the project, students, staff, and faculty will be informed in advance about how and where their data may be used in other Stanford systems. This first phase will only affect the Axess and Canvas systems and class rosters.

“We hope that students – and faculty and staff when the system is available – will participate in normalizing the use of pronouns by self-identifying in Axess and using the pronouns in everyday situations. It’s a simple yet powerful way to acknowledge diverse identities. Research has shown transgender and nonbinary community members feel better supported when pronoun use is common and widespread and is consistent with their self-identity,” said Dunkley.

“We understand that it may take some time for the Stanford community to become accustomed to this essential change, and everyone won’t always get it right every time. As we navigate through this critical change it is important that we show grace and empathy toward all our community members,” he said. “In doing so we will pave the way for lasting cultural change.”